South Dakota's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 20Th Annual National Awards Program

Castlewood and Rapid City students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Whitewood and Brookings

PIERRE, S.D.--()--Abbigail Boner, 17, of Castlewood and Jessica Benson, 14, of Rapid City today were named South Dakota's top two youth volunteers of 2015 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Abbigail was nominated by Castlewood High School in Castlewood, and Jessica was nominated by West Middle School in Rapid City. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 20th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

Abbigail, a senior at Castlewood High School, helps the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) raise money for children’s hospitals and medical care by speaking about the support her family received from the charity when her little brother was treated for a malignant brain tumor. “It was a very hard time for my family,” Abbigail said. During one of their many trips to the hospital, a representative of CMN approached them and offered help. “They helped us pay for gas, for meal tickets at the hospital, and they acted as a support system for my whole family,” she said. “Because of their kindness and generosity, I wanted to give back.”

So 10 years ago, Abbigail began appearing at CMN fundraisers, sharing her story of what it’s like to have a brother with cancer and how CMN helped her family get through a very traumatic time. At first, she spoke at events such as “phonathons” and “radiothons,” and gave interviews to the media. Then she began going with her family to “Dance Marathons” that college students in South Dakota organize at their schools to raise funds for CMN. At these events, Abbigail encourages the students to work hard by “telling them of the amazing things CMN does, not only for our family, but for all of the families helped by their cause,” she said. She also offers support to families fighting the same battles that her family once faced. When Abbigail goes to college next year, her goal is to become the top fundraising student for CMN, she said.

Jessica, an eighth-grader at West Middle School, makes, collects and distributes holiday cards for active military members and veterans. Jessica, who has several relatives who are veterans, wanted to do something to thank servicemen and women for their sacrifice, and also get fellow students involved in community service. “I feel military members are people we need to respect and honor,” she said. In addition, “I feel that it is very important to teach our youth that there is always something they can do to get involved.” So when Jessica heard about the Red Cross’s “Holiday Mail for Heroes” program, she knew what to do.

She began by purchasing supplies such as construction paper, markers, stamps, stickers and blank cards so that she could set up card-making tables at her school, church and community events. She then put together a PowerPoint presentation explaining the different branches of the military, and began speaking in classrooms to recruit participants. In addition to encouraging others to make their own cards, Jessica placed collection boxes around town, and partnered with a summer reading program. Within a few months, she had collected more than 400 cards for the Red Cross program. “I will never forget one man who stopped at a booth to make a card,” Jessica said. “He told me how he received a card at Christmas when he was stationed in Afghanistan, and how great it felt to have something from home and to know he was appreciated. This moment was the reason I did this.”

As State Honorees, Abbigail and Jessica each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2015.

Distinguished Finalists

The program judges also recognized two other South Dakota students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are South Dakota's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:

Danika Gordon, 12, of Whitewood, S.D., a seventh-grader at Sturgis Williams Middle School, has embarked on a number of projects to teach children how to combat bullying, which included writing an e-book called “What Makes You a Superhero” that has been read by 2,300 people. Danika, who had been bullied herself, has also given numerous presentations and workshops at schools and 4-H clubs, created a handbook that 4-H clubs statewide are using in their character education programs, and also helped to coordinate a Character Carnival and Cyber Safety Workshop for children.

Emma Lucchesi, 16, of Brookings, S.D., a junior at Brookings High School, has launched a number of literacy service projects including a recent book drive for which she and other volunteers collected 521 books to benefit the children at a local Boys and Girls Club. Emma also implemented a reading program called “Super Readers” at the club that brought in volunteers to read stories aloud to the children, and in her freshman year, she and a group of teen volunteers collected and distributed 2,783 books for the children on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“Prudential is honored to celebrate the contributions of these remarkable young volunteers,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “By shining a spotlight on the difference they’ve made in their communities, we hope others are inspired to volunteer, too.”

“These students have not only improved their communities through their exemplary volunteer service, but also set a fine example for their peers,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “Each of their stories is proof of the impact one young person can have when they decide to make a difference.”

About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and HandsOn Network affiliates, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.

While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – will tour the capital’s landmarks, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On May 4, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2015. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.

Since the program began in 1995, more than 100,000 young volunteers have been honored at the local, state and national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, India and China. In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program also distributes President’s Volunteer Service Awards to qualifying Local Honorees on behalf of President Barack Obama.

For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit or


The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and school leaders from across the United States and 35 countries around the world. The association connects and engages school leaders through advocacy, research, education, and student programs. NASSP advocates on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student and strengthens school leadership practices through the design and delivery of high quality professional learning experiences. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Association of Student Councils. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit

About Prudential Financial

Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial services leader, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential’s diverse and talented employees are committed to helping individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth through a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds and investment management. In the U.S., Prudential’s iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit

Editors: For full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, click here:


Prudential Financial
Harold Banks, 973-802-8974 or 973-216-4833


Prudential Financial
Harold Banks, 973-802-8974 or 973-216-4833